The Bearcats bounced back from their loss to Central Florida against the Midshipmen, setting sail from Nippert Stadium with a 20-10 victory. Another nautical themed mascot looms on the horizon, the Pirates of East Carolina. Despite 4 straight victories, the Cats still trail ECU 13-12 in the all time series. A win in this game would even up the series with no further games on the schedule for the foreseeable future.
Courtesy Professor Butts
Win and Move On
Playing Navy’s Triple Option offense is always frustrating, as it limits time of possession and tends to lead to a lot of injuries. The Bearcats appeared to have escaped this game with no injuries, but only put up 20 points on 9 possessions. Ben Bryant had another solid performance throwing for 299 yards and 2 TDs. The running game was effectively shut down. Fortunately, this was good practice as ECU runs a very similar defense to the Midshipmen, albeit with better talent. I was as happy as Ivan Pace Jr. to be leaving Nippert Stadium with a win.
Give No Quarter
Last year’s game against ECU, the regular season finale, in Greenville, didn’t go the way the Pirates were hoping. They took an early 3-0 lead, but it was all Bearcats in the second quarter, as they scored 21 unanswered en route to a 35-13 win against the Pirates. ECU QB Holton Ahlers in his 16th year of eligibility for the Pirates went 19-38 for 228 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
The biggest play of the game was Ahmad Gardner returning a blocked kick for a TD, surprising to even think he was on the kicking defense at the time as he makes a run for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Send them to Davey Jones Locker
This year’s Pirates team has been a bit fickle. They lost a close game to Navy 23-20, lost at Tulane 24-9, but beat UCF 34-13 and won a tough road match at BYU 27-24. They come into this game 6-3, (3-2 AAC) and a loss would all but eliminate them from the conference championship game. The Bearcats once again find themselves facing an elite passer, ECU QB Holton Ahlers is currently 12th in the NCAA in Passing yards (223/318 for 2632) and 26th in Pass Efficiency Rating. He’s thrown 18 TDs and 5 interceptions on the season and only been sacked 12 times. He’s got a pair of excellent WRs in Isaiah Winstead and his HS teammate C.J. Johnson who he’s played with seemingly since the Clinton Administration. Not only do the Pirates have a strong passing game, but they have a strong running game with RB Keaton Mitchell. If the Bearcats can slow down Mitchell, who has 863 yards on 7.1 yards per carry and 9 TDs, however, there isn’t much behind him. If Mitchell starts breaking off big runs, it’s going to be a rough night for the Blackcat defense. Mitchell has been held to under 50 yards in each of ECU’s losses, but with the way the Bearcats defense has been playing, I’m not holding my breath on that one. The Bearcats have only allowed Ahlers to have one big game against them, a head scratcher in 2019 in which he passed for 545 yards and 4 TDs in a shootout. The infamous Luke Fickell pull-up game. Slow down Mitchell and put some pressure on Ahlers and the Bearcats should extend their winning streak on Nipp at Nite.
The Bearcats have been equally as bad rushing the ball as they have been defending the run, and I don’t expect things to improve much against ECU. The Pirates feature the 39th ranked rush defense, only allowing 127 yards per game on the ground. For as good as their rush defense is, their passing defense is nearly as bad as Navy’s. They allow nearly 264 yards through the air, which is 107th in the country. They will dial up the pressure on the Bearcats, they average 2.6 sacks a game, which is #32 overall. Overall, they allow on average 291 yards per game which is good for 80th in the country. If the Bearcats have success throwing the ball like they did last week against Navy, the Pirates will be going down with the ship, on their way to another Military Bowl. The Bearcats, on the other hand, will be looking towards their Senior Day match-up against Tulane on Black Friday, with a trip to the AAC Championship on the line. A minor hurdle next weekend at Temple should be a breeze.
Bearcats – 31
Pirates – 28